Revisiting Roundabouts

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There are three roundabouts in Old Trail, and more have been proposed along Route 250 West. Photo: Clover Carroll.

Roundabouts are a current traffic trend, and seem to be popping up all over Crozet these days. Roundabouts are designed to promote a continuous, circular flow of traffic. Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Federal Highway Administration have shown that roundabouts result in a significant reduction in both the likelihood and severity of collisions.

There are currently three in Old Trail, and more have been proposed for the intersections of Routes 240 and 250 (see story page 26), Routes 250 and 151, and perhaps Route 250 and Radford Lane (in front of Harris Teeter). But as with four-way stop signs, many of us have forgotten the rules for handling them safely and efficiently.

Lucky for us, local roundabouts are all single lane. If you’ve driven in Washington, D.C., you know that two- and three-lane “circles” can be both more confusing and more dangerous. 

Following these rules from the Virginia Department of Transportation will protect everyone’s safety, including your own:

  • Slow down as you approach the roundabout. 
  • You must yield to traffic already in the roundabout. 
  • If there are already cars in the roundabout, stop and let them proceed until a safe opening occurs. This is different than a highway entrance ramp, where you can proceed with the expectation that cars will get out of your way.*
  • Enter the roundabout only behind other cars—not in front of them—and proceed counter-clockwise.
  • Signal your intended exit prior to leaving the roundabout. This helps other drivers know when they can enter safely.
  • Always yield to pedestrians crossing the streets that form the spokes of the roundabout. 

The important thing to remember is that cars already in the roundabout when you arrive have the right of way. You should never enter the roundabout in front of another car. They may plan to drive past your entrance point, so you should not enter until they have either exited, or passed you. For example, if you arrive at the roundabout (say at 6 o’clock) and there is a car approaching on your left, don’t assume they will be exiting at your entrance point. They may instead drive across your path to exit at 3 or 12 o’clock. You should not enter the roundabout until you are sure of their planned exit point. If cars within the roundabout would reliably use their turn signals to indicate where they plan to exit, this uncertainty might be avoided. In summary, slow down, yield, and signal. 

For the previously published Four-Way Stop Refresher, click here.

*Update from the author: I incorrectly stated that cars could merge onto highways without stopping and expect other cars to move out of the way. While many of us may believe this, and have even been so taught, the Virginia Driver’s Manual states that “Drivers entering an interstate from an entrance ramp must yield the right-of-way to traffic already on the highway” (https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/webdoc/pdf/dmv39.pdf, Section 3, p. 15). My apologies and thanks to Eleanor Amidon for pointing out my error. — Clover Carroll

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